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John Nugent – My life in hospitality

15 May 2009
John Nugent – My life in hospitality

John Nugent is chief executive officer of Green & Fortune.

As a student John Nugent worked in hotels and on ferries, which is where he caught the bug for what he calls the "diversity and different disciplines" of hospitality.

After catering college in Dublin he moved straight to London to the Thistle Tower Hotel at Tower Bridge, where he ran the back of house - a time he describes as "a sprawling, amazing experience - coming to London and having such a mixture of people was a real eye-opener to this big, bustling, multicultural place."

Then, at 21 he joined caterer Searcy (which at the time only had one contract), where he worked on and off for 16 years, growing the company. Nugent worked his way up to become chief executive at 35.

In December 2007 he parted company with Searcy after "a very, very good journey" and went on to found his own company, Green & Fortune.

In October 2008 he launched the multi-purpose Kings Place development in London's King's Cross, with its café, bar, restaurant, private dining and event catering, the week the financial world collapsed.

"It was pretty bad luck after 20 good years in London, but you get so far with something you've got to keep going. It's like an oil tanker and you can't stop it," he says.

"Our plan is to keep going and get out of these troubles. It's not easy, but it's very enjoyable - apart from when it's not."

HIGHS… Setting up my own business, Green & Fortune, in 2008 was a definitive, delirious high. It was like a culmination of all the skills I'd built up over my career, in this wonderful new building and project with an arts bias.

As the Kings Place site neared completion early last autumn, I saw [property developer] Peter Millican's phenomenal vision come to fruition, and with it, the birth of my new business.

I knew then that I was on the verge of the next big chapter in my life, where I had full control and responsibility - for revenue, for a staff of 70, and for managing a company that had several strands to it - restaurant, café, bars, conferences and events.

I guess that all my previous jobs had been leading me to this moment when I took control without the comfort of a board of directors and someone else's money.

Also, being promoted to chief executive of Searcy aged 35 was an exceptionally high point of my career. I had worked for the company for 14 years, and loved every minute of it.

Seeing a company like Searcy grow and change and mature over that period was gratifying and challenging, and I had the privilege to work with many inspirational people and institutions.

LOWS… Leaving Searcy behind was hard - it was a huge chunk of my life and my history. However exciting it was to be launching my own company, I was nostalgic and sad to leave. It was where I grew up in my work life, having started at 21 as the restaurant manager at the Barbican.

Moving out of the comfort zone of being a cog in a big wheel was quietly bewildering at many stages. It took nearly a year to get Kings Place and Green & Fortune up and running after I left Searcy, and there were many moments during those 12 months when I had to ask myself if the big risks were going to be worth it. I had lots of sleepless nights.

And, literally the week that we opened in October 2008, the world's financial institutions went into meltdown. What a time to start the new business!

Age - 39
Family - Separated, one child
Favourite holiday New York and Thailand
Drives - Saab convertible
Motto - The answer always has to be yes. Whatever your customers want, you have to have a positive "yes" approach. The rules have changed regarding how you interact with the client and now you have to meet them at least halfway

Career highlights Thistle Tower Hotel at Tower Bridge, restaurant manager at the Barbican, chief executive of Searcy, starting up Green & Fortune and the Kings Place development in 2008

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